Because I still see the boy.
August 27, 2018 4:04 PM   Subscribe

Survivors of Vermont orphanage abuse come forward. Christine Kenneally investigates horrific stories of child abuse by nuns at a Burlington orphanage and the subsequent legal struggles. Content warning: violence against, torture, rape, murder of children. (SLBuzzfeed)
posted by doctornemo (35 comments total) 36 users marked this as a favorite
The children's photograph with the note attached pointing out "Look at bruises on all shins." Fuck.
posted by nicebookrack at 4:15 PM on August 27, 2018 [7 favorites]

*  Contains images that   *
*   cannot be un-seen     *
That Jack Sartore, though; defending the church against all these allegations. He must've known. Fucker.
posted by scruss at 4:48 PM on August 27, 2018 [9 favorites]

It is the history of unrelenting physical and psychological abuse of captive children. Across thousands of miles, across decades, the abuse took eerily similar forms
I don’t know what to say. The article is an unrelenting litany of horrors worse than anything I’ve seen in horror movies. And then there is this.

I don’t know what to say.
posted by schadenfrau at 4:50 PM on August 27, 2018 [10 favorites]

I cannot imagine what it must be like to be an American Catholic in 2018 and to face this unremitting litany of evil done by your church, done all over your country, done for generations upon generations.

The predation upon the poor, the helpless ... a church could and should have been in a position to advocate for the weak, the poor and the powerless and instead they made it possible for unimaginable amounts of pain and depravity to be perpetuated, consequence-free.

How do you come back from that?
posted by sobell at 4:53 PM on August 27, 2018 [32 favorites]

I read this in the morning and have been haunted by it all day.

The idea that these children could be seen as so less-than that the nuns felt free to physically, sexually abuse them, torture, even murder them, all under the eyes of God and completely with no consequences just makes me cry. No one was in these children's corner. And the babies, my god.

How do people become so evil that they can do this?
posted by 41swans at 5:03 PM on August 27, 2018 [15 favorites]

This was a really brutal, haunting read. I too haven't been able to stop thinking about it since I read it this morning.

I was horrified reading what was done to those poor children, and my horror turned to anger when I read about how the diocese denied so many of the victims' stories, saying that there was no way to prove them, while sitting on all the material that did prove so much of it. Monsters.
posted by SisterHavana at 5:30 PM on August 27, 2018 [5 favorites]

In a long and searing read, this line near the end really stuck out to me: "In the late winter of 2018 in a noisy pub off Interstate 91, I met Rob Dale, Sally Dale’s son. Rob looked like his mother, who had died 18 years before of lung cancer. Gentle and immediately likable, he was 47 and recently retired from his job as a corrections officer."

Man hands on misery to man, it deepens like a coastal shelf.
posted by sy at 5:37 PM on August 27, 2018 [20 favorites]

When bearing witness to the most disturbing experiences of Vermont’s children became too much, White would find the steepest ski slope and fly down, screaming his head off all the way, until he felt calm enough to return to his work.

I think that I understand this. I have an uncle whose #1 resentment from his childhood was that he was temporarily placed in an orphanage, even though both of his parents were still alive, because they were temporarily unable to provide for him. He still won't talk about the experience itself, even in his seventies.
posted by Halloween Jack at 5:58 PM on August 27, 2018 [15 favorites]

Oh I can barely read that article. Just barely. I have to skim my eyes over it - it is HORRIFYING. The cruelty.

posted by awfurby at 6:27 PM on August 27, 2018 [5 favorites]

I'm consistently amazed that the Catholic church is still standing after each scandal, at least in the US+Canada where its declining numbers have undermined its political power. They did so many horrific things, and kept records. The church has a hierarchical structure that is a matter of doctrine, so it can't be split up into pieces that can disclaim responsibility for each other. It has a vast array of property and other assets for victims to go after - and there are so many victims that one loss in court could mean the end.
posted by allegedly at 6:43 PM on August 27, 2018 [18 favorites]

I read this elsewhere this morning, in disjointed pieces because it was so horrific. And, of course, it's not just in the U.S.; the stories from Ireland, Scotland, and Australia are equally horrific. I despair at what people will do to others, especially to children. I despair.
posted by MovableBookLady at 7:02 PM on August 27, 2018 [3 favorites]

Great piece. I was thinking of the Irish burials and waiting for the bodies to be counted. Orphanages are the worst.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 7:08 PM on August 27, 2018 [5 favorites]

I thought about this for hours after I read it.

Last week, I read something about a priest who was sitting quietly in his chapel when a man he said he'd never seen before came in and clocked him -- "this is for the little kids," he said. Another story I noticed was about the arrest of a young man over the body of a priest found buried in a shallow grave.

I don't know anything about the personal lives of either of these priests. But I'm afraid we're going to see more of this. If the Catholic Church will not provide a reckoning, individuals will. It's not that I think that's a good idea in the slightest. It's just what I think is going to happen. No justice, no peace is not just a rally chant.

If Pope Francis was like his namesake, he would fiat justitia ruat caelum; but I will not wait up.
posted by Countess Elena at 7:13 PM on August 27, 2018 [9 favorites]

posted by limeonaire at 7:17 PM on August 27, 2018 [1 favorite]

I ran a google search to see how much this story had legs, and it's getting some decent traction. One of the links, on page 3, was to the Dioceses of Burlington. I'm going to quote a paragraph from the statement that the bishop put out:
Over the past few years here in the Diocese of Burlington, we had begun to “turn the page” and speak positively about our faith instead of apologizing for the sinful behavior of our clergy and shepherds. Now, we seem to be back at stage one. I know that you and I will get through this because we are men and women of good will, good hearts and strong faith in Jesus Christ. He does not leave His Church orphans.
There's a reason you were apologizing for the behavior of your clergy and shepherds. They abused, raped and killed children. That's not something you get to sweep under the rug after a few years. That's something that you spend multiple generations working to apologize for and fix. If you want a good example, look to Germany's laws on Nazi imagery, not the way that the LAPD covered up the Rampart Scandal. I do not think that this bishop was an abuser or was complicit in the abuse. But if he had been around back then, he would have been covering it up like the rest of them.
posted by Hactar at 7:37 PM on August 27, 2018 [20 favorites]

If you’re on the fence about whether or not you should read this for your own health, don’t read it. It is haunting.

If you’re on the fence about whether you should read it because you feel helpless and powerless, DO read it. The only way we can bring justice to these children’s stories is to make them part of a national conversation.
posted by KathrynT at 7:51 PM on August 27, 2018 [18 favorites]

Create a powerful and legally unaccountable institution
Let it raise up armies of people denied opportunity or education and fed dogma and brutality
Feed it the most helpless and powerless members of society to use, abuse or discard as it wishes
Refuse to believe those members when they cry out for justice
posted by emjaybee at 7:53 PM on August 27, 2018 [10 favorites]

I was less traumatized and more determined after reading this. Under the worst treatment, many of these survivors fought fiercely to hold on to their souls. They largely didn't get justice but they fought with incredible courage anyway. It's worth reading to honor their courage.
posted by emjaybee at 7:57 PM on August 27, 2018 [28 favorites]

"heard that a boy was the object of a competition between the brothers to see who could rape him 100 times"

holy fucking what the fucking shit
posted by Grandysaur at 8:28 PM on August 27, 2018 [10 favorites]

It's almost as if when people are looking after people they know society does not value in the least, they will generally do absolutely the worst to them. Hierarchy lets us be utterly inhuman.
posted by LucretiusJones at 8:32 PM on August 27, 2018 [10 favorites]

I don't want to reread to find it but there was a quote about "I've never met people who hate themselves as much as these victims". Even after it ends this abuse lasts for so long. A lifetime and beyond.

I was raised Catholic and have been an atheist for years now. Fewer and fewer family members see fit to try to bring me back to the church and I think stories like this are exactly why. How could you advocate for such an institution?

The Church should sell everything it owns and give that money to its victims, then shut its doors forever.
posted by Emmy Rae at 8:46 PM on August 27, 2018 [14 favorites]

No seriously if you're fragile at all don't read that story it has the seeds of 100 horror movies planted in its flesh
posted by sacre_bleu at 8:51 PM on August 27, 2018 [10 favorites]

1) The nuns and clergy are monsters, but also, those defense lawyers, man. I get that everyone has the right to a fair trial, but how do you sleep at night when you do that to survivors?
2) BuzzFeed! Wow. That was some serious investigative reporting. Well done.
3) The older I get, the less tolerance I have for religion. Burn them down and salt the earth.
posted by greermahoney at 10:31 PM on August 27, 2018 [13 favorites]

Tax religion. All religion.
If they are doing things that would be tax exempt for other non-profits, fine. But don't let them off the hook for taxes just because they say they are "special".
They all claim to a part of something better then mundane existence, so take them at their word. If they are what they say then taxes shouldn't cause much of a problem.
Religion does not represent any kind of morally superiority. This incident, which is far from unique, shows religion is a haven for the worst of human behavior.
The reality that we all end up subsidizing this vile activity adds to my fury and disgust. I am forced to be complicit and that sickens me.
posted by Metacircular at 3:17 AM on August 28, 2018 [16 favorites]

I was orphaned in 1991 and was given a 5-year scholarship to a catholic boarding school. One of the elite ones though. I didn't know how lucky I was, I thought every school had a golf course.

Now we've had this Royal Commission in Australia investigating institutional child sexual abuse over the past few years. I thought, this isn't about my school, I went to one of the good ones. But I was wrong, it was the elite schools too. In fact, run by the same order, in the same time period, very possibly by the same people.

There was a request made to the public: if you were there, and you remember anything, no matter how small, even if you don't think it's significant, you have to come forward and tell your story. Justice depends on it.

So I did a full audit of those five years, second-guessing and doubting everyone I knew there. And man, there were somethings, I just don't know. I can't say for certain.

Even though nothing actually happened to me, I can't think about those people fondly anymore. One day I might look at the TV and see them walking out of court. They are all tainted by this.

posted by adept256 at 3:54 AM on August 28, 2018 [12 favorites]

First, and it is important: BuzzFeed. This is really great journalism. BuzzFeed has to be taken seriously now.


I can't write about what I've just read about. What I want to write about is what I have thought about so many times, as follows: When human monsters are portrayed, in books and in movies, they'll often have hooves, cloven feet, horns, maybe scales, brightly sharp animal eyes. It is saying that it is the animal nature that is set free, it is saying that humans overtaken by animal nature do these things.

It could not be more wrong.

What is set free in these horrific narrations is not animal nature, it is human nature. Animals are not sick. Their souls -- if that is what you want to call it; it does work for me -- their souls do not sicken. They kill to eat. They will definitely set up hierarchies, who is the top wolf in the pack, who is the lead bull in the herd. They'll fight to the death to establish those hierarchies, for example if the head wolf is being challenged. But they don't torture just to torture. Not animals.

Human beings, on the other hand, sans cloven hooves, horns, or scales -- we become sick. If you were to cut open the chest of any of these people who tortured children, the room with be filled the the smell of dead-fish rot.

The fact that these sick human beings hid behind religion -- it's just appalling. As is the whole Catholic church, so many lives ruined, so little care extended. If I had a child that had gone through that, and then the church just hid it out, it would be difficult to restrain my rage, and my outrage. I don't know how parents have withheld their rage.

. for the innocent children who suffered, and for those who died.
posted by dancestoblue at 4:20 AM on August 28, 2018 [6 favorites]

I can't read this yet, but will force myself later. I was an unwed mother in America 50 years ago, and my son was given to a mentally ill adoptive mother, and he spent some time in foster care, but at least was never in an orphanage. Also we just got home from visiting relatives in Ireland where such horrors were common for years in the industrial schools, orphanages, Magdalene Laundries, and Mother and Baby homes.We were not far from Tuam with the mass baby grave. The talk was all about the Pope visiting, but so many people in Ireland are disgusted and disillusioned with the Catholic Church, including those out in the country like my cousins who were formally the loyal sheep. The church spokesmen keep asking for people to forgive them for the unforgivable. They do not deserve forgiveness: their victims deserve civil and moral justice. For all of us, the unwed mothers who were forced into surrender, the babies who died and the babies who lived with their identities erased, and most of all the children whose lives were destroyed and damaged by clerical pedophiles whose evil was covered up and unpunished by the Bishops and others. May the pedophiles and their protectors rot in Hell.
posted by mermayd at 5:13 AM on August 28, 2018 [21 favorites]

My wife's father grew up in St. Joseph's, from age 9 or 10 until he was 18. This would have been in the late 50s, I guess. My wife knows Patty Zeno, and recognizes a couple of the other names in the article.

He died (of a heart attack) when she was 5, and he and the rest of the family are of of the stoic Vermonter stock that don't like to share their problems, so it is hard to know if he (or his siblings, by now all passed as well) had stories like this. He was an alcoholic, as were many of his siblings, and their lives were generally marked by struggle. She doesn't know if any of them were abusers, but there were stories and rumors, and there were uncles she did not want to be alone with.

We lived in Vermont in the early 2000s, so she remembers coverage of the late 90s lawsuits. There were rumblings from some in her family of getting involved in the suits for various reasons, but I think no one really wanted to know what they might learn. This was a rough read for her last night.
posted by Rock Steady at 5:22 AM on August 28, 2018 [19 favorites]

I forced myself to read the whole thing, word for word. Because some part of me feels that this is the only way we can honor these kids' suffering. They had to endure it, the least I can do is bear witness.

I have so many feelings. So much anger and sadness. So much impotent rage.
posted by widdershins at 7:58 AM on August 28, 2018 [5 favorites]

First, and it is important: BuzzFeed. This is really great journalism. BuzzFeed has to be taken seriously now.

Indeed. Say what you will about the rest of the site, but BuzzFeed News is legit. They've put out some great work in the last few years, and their investigative journalism has been exceptional.
posted by SisterHavana at 9:44 AM on August 28, 2018 [3 favorites]

Buzzfeed investigative journalism like this is subsidized by the Buzzfeed listicle clickbait that is the much-derided Buzzfeed brand, because it's incredibly hard to stay sustainable as a 100% pure™ serious news source.
posted by nicebookrack at 10:31 AM on August 28, 2018 [13 favorites]

Pro [a completely miserable and horror-filled] Life
posted by whuppy at 12:53 PM on August 28, 2018 [3 favorites]

Took me 2 hours to read the other day, and I still don’t feel right.

Something that struck me is the gaslighting. They were abusing young children whose very worldviews they had often shaped, who therefore didn’t even fully realize they were being abused. I think that is why it was so hard to root out, because the abuse got so deeply into the victims’ subconscious that they figured they deserved it or figured that they were even complicit in it. I wonder if the children they killed were the ones who had had some outside nurturing, and threatened to upset the apple cart by teaching the other children that the abuse they were suffering was wrong. Peer influence is very powerful at that age.

There were also some moments noted in the article where the nuns flew into fits of rage and did things that were extraordinary even for them, like pushing children down flights of stairs or out windows. I can relate to that; my mother wasn’t physically abusive, but she would snap sometimes and roar at me in the most rageful voice, calling me names and giving unnecessarily harsh punishments. It was scary because you never knew when it was going to happen, but you knew it was your fault if it did. The worst was when she would curse, because she normally called it a sin, so there was this sense that you were so horrible you were compelling her to condemn herself.

She still snaps like that, and what I notice now is that when the episode is over and cursory apologies are made, through some combination of voluntary/involuntary memory control, she forgets it, or at least never mentions it again. At the end of a vacation where we spend basically every day reacting to each other over this or that inconsequential thing, I’ll still get a text about what a lovely time she had. I imagine that if those nuns ever felt an inkling that their behavior was wrong, they just prayed for forgiveness and resolved not to react quite so forcefully the next time a child “made” them fly into a blind rage. Wiping the slate clean night after night, while the damage accumulated on the children.

Some people just shouldn’t spend all day with children. i.e those with rage issues they’re willing to blame children for. What a twisted lesson to teach to a child.
posted by mantecol at 12:50 AM on August 29, 2018 [4 favorites]

I did finally go back and read the story, to honor the victims and survivors. It was as grueling as expected. Priests and nuns cut off from normal family life should not be let anywhere near children.The glorification of celibacy and demonizing of sex has led to nothing but perversion and sadism by Catholic clergy and religious. It is time for it to stop; the laity overwhelmingly believe this, it is the hierarchy that is totally corrupt that is holding on to this outmoded practice.
posted by mermayd at 1:42 PM on August 31, 2018 [2 favorites]

Buzzfeed News: Murder Charges Could Be Filed Against Nuns from a Shuttered Vermont Catholic Orphanage
A task force will investigate allegations of murder and abuse at a Catholic orphanage in Vermont following a BuzzFeed News report that detailed decades of alleged violent crimes against children.

Burlington officials suggested that murder charges could be possible in connection with at least three reported child killings at St. Joseph's Orphanage.

"There may still be an opportunity to secure justice for some orphanage victims," Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger said Monday. He added that homicide does not have a statute of limitations and that those cases will be left open until resolved by city and state authorities. (...)

Officials acknowledged the logistical and legal challenges in investigating decades-old allegations against an institute that closed nearly 40 years ago.

Vermont Attorney General TJ Donovan said at a news conference that the case would not be resolved quickly, but added that "we owe it" to the community and the victims of abuse in Vermont "that have suffered in silence."

posted by Crystalinne at 2:39 PM on September 10, 2018 [4 favorites]

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